Conservatives Debate Controversial Arizona Immigration Law

Arizona's new immigration law is causing a stir among conservatives. Many support the bill, saying it was a last ditch effort to control a situation the federal government has failed to handle. Other Republicans have voiced concerns that the law goes too far, and can easily cause civil rights violations. Host Michel Martin speaks to two conservatives with very different points of view — Professor Kris Kobach teaches at University of Missouri-Kansas School of law and Matt Lewis is a contributing writer to The Daily Caller, an online news and opinion site.

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MICHEL MARTIN, Host:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Coming up, our Faith Matters conversation.

But first, we have a few more minutes in our conversation about Arizona's tough, new immigration law. It's considered the most aggressive law enforcement effort aimed at combating illegal immigration in the country. We're speaking with two conservative thought leaders.

One, Professor Kris Kobach of the University of Missouri-Kansas School of Law. He helped draft the Arizona statute. Also joining us is Matt Lewis, a contributing writer to The Daily Caller, an online news and opinion site. He's questioned this law from a conservative perspective.

Professor Kobach, is it your view that this law does not invite racial profiling, or is it that even if it does, that potential abridgment of freedom or in position on some persons is balanced by the overall need to address this very pressing situation?

KOBACH: It's not just my view, it's the law itself. The law expressly prohibits racial profiling. Anyone who says this law invites or allows racial profiling has not read the law. And as far as the point that was made before the break that somehow this law decreases liberty, that is perhaps a misconception fostered by the president himself when he said, now suddenly, if you don't have your papers, you're going to be harassed.

Well, let's take a look at that misstatement from President Obama. It reflected that he himself was not familiar or at least not wanting to talk about federal immigration law, which has since 1940 made it a federal crime for aliens to fail to keep certain registration documents on their person. All the Arizona law does is simply add a level of state misdemeanor on top of the behavior that was already...

MARTIN: But American citizens aren't required to carry papers on their persons, are they?

KOBACH: Exactly. Under federal law (unintelligible) law...

MARTIN: So, if you're an American citizen and you're packed into a van...

LEWIS: Let me make a quick point here, there are a lot of police in Arizona who don't like this. They feel that it's going to put them in an awkward position. I think I saw the sheriff that said he didn't - that he wasn't going to enforce it. But, by the way...

MARTIN: Well, two Arizona police officers have filed suit against this.

KOBACH: (unintelligible) officers unions are saying they are in favor - only the liberal leadership.

LEWIS: Let me also make a point, because you're talking about liberal leadership, I think I was actually maybe the first conservative voice to write about this. And by the way, it was before Barack Obama said anything about papers. But Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, Governor Rick Perry of Texas, a lot of conservatives have expressed concern over this. So I think, you know, the notion that conservatives are monolithic and lined up behind this I think is actually inaccurate.

KOBACH: But the conservatives that rushed to the microphone right after the liberals who mischaracterized it at the microphone weren't operating on a complete set of facts. They were taking for granted the, or they were accepting false (unintelligible).

LEWIS: Right. Because anybody who doesn't agree with your point of view is simply taking their talking points and cues from the left.

KOBACH: All I ask is that someone who talk about this read the law.

LEWIS: I don't doubt that the law now says that it prohibits racial profiling. The question is, in practice, when you're a police officer on the street under pressure and you've now been given this additional authority, what's going to happen? And, look...

KOBACH: If you follow the law, you will call the federal government and use that 24/7 hotline. You won't make adjustment based on your gut instinct. You will make a judgment based on a conscious (unintelligible) government.

LEWIS: So apparently that myself, Jonah Goldberg, who expressed some concern about this, governor...

KOBACH: He's expressed a concern...

LEWIS: ...former Governor Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and Rick Perry are all, you know, completely wrong, haven't bothered to read the bill and we're taking our cues from Barack Obama on the left.

KOBACH: I think Marco Rubio had not read the bill when he was asked a question off the cuff at a press conference right after the bill had been signed. So, no, I don't think he'd read the bill yet. And I think conservatives as well as liberals sometimes make the mistake of failing to read the bill.

MARTIN: Professor, we gave you the first word, we're going to give Matt Lewis the last word. And we also promise to get you out of here so you could fulfill your other obligations. So, Matt Lewis, a final thought from you.

LEWIS: Look, I think that what happened is that Governor Brewer in Arizona legislature went back and they made amendments to this and I think the bill probably better. And I think the fact that has become a national debate probably lessens the likelihood that they're going to be kind of egregious abuses of this. So at the end of the day, this has probably been very productive.

MARTIN: Matt Lewis is a contributing writer to The Daily Caller. That's an online news and opinion site. If you want to read the piece that we've been talking about, we'll link to it on our site. Go to npr.org and then click on Programs. He stopped by our Washington, D.C. studios.

Professor Kris Kobach teaches at the University of Missouri-Kansas School of Law. I should mention he's also a Republican Party candidate for the Kansas secretary of state and he was kind enough to join us by phone from his home office in Kansas City. Gentlemen, I thank you both so much for speaking with us.

LEWIS: Thank you.

KOBACH: Thank you.

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